Assem Trivedi, a renowned Indian Political Cartoonist was arrested following
sedition charges in 2012 for having posted a series of online caricatures. The
arrest was carried out by the Mumbai Police for he was a member of Anna Hazare's
Campaign 'India Against Corruption'. He was made liable under IPC Section 124A,
Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, and Section 2 of the Prevention
of Insults to Nation Honour Act.
The court's verdict came after a Public Interest Litigation was filed by an
activist-lawyer Sanskar Marathe thereby challenging Trivedi's cartoons following
which he was arrested back in 2012.
A comprehensive term like 'sedition'
embraces all practices whether by
word, deed, or writing that is calculated to bring disturbance in the state's
tranquillity`. The main objective is to induce discontent and insurrection that
ultimately stir up the opposition to the government and brings the overall
administration of justice into contempt. Sedition includes the act of inciting
people to insurrection and rebellion against the government.
A private complaint was filed by a lawyer in December. Out of the many
allegations which were brought against him one such allegation was that he had
actively participated in the movement by putting up banners during the rally
wherein he mocked the national sentiments of the country. Shortly, there was a
series of FIRs that got filed against him. It consisted of various allegations
that were to the effect that he had not only defamed the Parliament, the
Constitution of India, and the Ashok Emblem but also tried spreading hatred and
disrespect against the Government of India.
Publishing of such cartoons besides amounting to insult under the National
Emblems Act also amounts to being seditious. The charges stated that he had
violated 'Content Law' and insulted 'National Honor' through cartons posted on
his blog page 'Cartoons Against Corruption'. It was also stated that he had
deliberately posted 'seditious' and 'obscene content'.
At the age of 30, he told the ABC news channel, "I don't think freedom of speech
is in a good condition over here," citing numerous instances of sedition charges
against individuals since his arrest. He started his cartooning career in 2004
after which his contributions were found in different Hindi newspapers and
magazines. He had always wanted his cartoons to be part of a good cause like
activism. His sketches no doubt earned him many fans and followers during
India's movement against corruption.
The arrest took place exactly after the cartoons were displayed at a
demonstration in Mumbai. It was the Congress-led governments in power both at
the Centre and in Maharashtra. The UPA that was in power has long gone and the
Narendra Modi government was in its second term Amit, Katarnayea, a member of
the Republic party had made the complaint acting upon which the police arrested
He was remanded to judicial custody until 24th September. He was fortunate to
have been offered bail otherwise had he been charged with sedition; he would
have no doubt faced a lengthy prison service. Despite having offered bail, the
cartoonist refused so and continued staying behind bars for two weeks. He kept
arguing and kept his stance intact. He also added that the onus is on the
government to drop the case. It is shocking to note that the trial against him
hasn't even started since his arrest.
Assem rightly quoted that no system is inherently perfect structure-wise which
means we always need such people who shall point out the lacunas so that it can
be improved. It has to be realized that these people work for the betterment of
the country and its people and aren't being detrimental to the government's
efforts and aren't going against the system. Nowadays the after-effects of
sedition on someone who has been charged with sedition have gone so extreme that
it almost disrupts his normal course of life.
It has reached such a point wherein individuals are constantly under the fear of
being viciously trolled or that they could be attacked while traveling by train
which reflects the inherent brutal situation of such individuals expressing
their right to expression. Charges of sedition have been extremely difficult to
It was Sukumar Muralidharan, a South Asia program coordinator with the
International Federation of Journalists to have rightfully stated that the
police are obliged to have a basic understanding of the law before they decide
to further take down and act upon a filed complaint.
In one of his interviews, Assem clarified that his cartoons could at best be
described as 'bold' as they depict the government's approach to the handling of
the country. It can be envisaged that the plans undertaken in the name of
welfare can otherwise be against the interests of the country and its people. It
was in an attempt of showcasing such lacunas of the government that he decided
to mock its policies. His intention was never to insult the national symbols.
Amit Katarnawre, the petitioner who had pushed for his arrest said on the phone
that he believed that the cartoons intended a deliberate insult to the national
symbols. In defense, it shall be argued that:
The term 'intended deliberate insult' means the maker has the 'mental objective'
required for committing such an action. Interpreting the same from a legal sense
makes it clear that criticizing or pointing towards the policies that are
undertaken by the government cannot be brought within the above definition. Such
criticisms consider the government as a whole and never question them at an
individual meaning. Thus, he cannot be made liable for sedition and his right to
freedom of speech and expression Article 19 (1) cannot be curtailed.
Ultimately, the result of all these had harsh consequences that brought his life
to a sudden halt. Firstly, of all, he had to suffer a lot of hate and
ill-treatment all because he chose to exercise his constitutional right under
Article 19(1) provided by the constitution, and secondly, the stigma attached
convinced him to give up cartooning forever.
Assem Trivedi is a well-known name in the world of 'cartoons' or 'online
caricatures'. The cartoons made by him during Anna Hazare's 'India Against
Corruption Movement' reflects his immense support for him. He had always wanted
to be part of such activism and drew the cartoons as an inspiration for the
movement going on around. He wanted to show his patriotic spirit and support for
Interpretation of the cartoons posted on the 'Cartoons Against Corruption
Our liberal minds have to realize that any form of expression whether it is by
signs, visible representation, or even caricatures drawn online doesn't
necessarily result in being seditious. The different cartoons that were penned
down by Trivedi on the blog page were done keeping in mind the role of the
government in policy-making. The cartoons are indicative of criticizing the
after-effects on the people has nothing to do with them at a personal level.
Serious offenses like sedition can't simply be attached to an individual on mere
grounds of having criticized the government.
Both Section 124A (Sedition) and Article 19(1) (Freedom of Speech and
Expression) have been the center of contention and the latter has mostly been
misinterpreted as being seditious.
Article 19(1) is the right to freedom of speech and expression of an individual,
the people have the right to express themselves. They have the right to speak
against the government and its role in shaping the undertaken strategies.
However, such criticism is never intended against them individually or
Section 124A which specifically deals with sedition would attract liability
wherein certain remarks have been made in crossing the government or meaning the
persons running such a government. Only in such cases shall those remarks that
are otherwise addressed to such individuals be considered seditious. Hence, if
any such cartoon brings or attempts to bring such criticism on the government in
its entirety meaning it attaches all such persons who in turn help in running
the government shall result being seditious.
Criticism in bits and pieces isn't sedition and suggestions relating to their
rectification legally constitute Article 19(1) Right to Freedom of Speech and
Expression. The maker only seeks to identify the weak points wherein the
policies are causing more harm than good.
The most talked about posts include the 'National Emblem', 'Constitution', and
'Parliament'. The National Bird has been depicted being a 'vulture' instead of a
'parrot'. The vulture is comfortably seated on the branches of the tree. It has
a stern look and a few drops of blood can be found dripping from its mouth.
Next, the 'National Emblem' has been depicted as consisting of 'wolves' instead
The wolves were denoted as signs of danger. By nature, they seem extremely
dangerous with the corner ones dripping blood. The 'Constitution' has also been
included as one such post wherein the late Kasab can be found urinating. The
'Parliament' can be found surrounded by flies. Additionally, the patriotic song
'Satyamev Jayte' is the 'National Joke' while 'Bribe' is the 'National Food' of
At the time these cartoons were made, there was rampant corruption around and
this was the rationale applied by Trivedi as he carefully chose a nasty-looking
and filthy scavenger as a 'vulture' in place of the 'peacock'. The painter made
the cartoon in an attempt of depicting the consequences that corruption was
likely to cause. He deliberately chose the vulture in place of the peacock to
increase the gravity of the situation.
Through the cartoons, he wanted to create an impact that would last within the
minds of the masses. By asserting a vulture in place of a parrot, he wanted to
instil the realization that if the prevailing problems (corruption) weren't
treated seriously, the situation would come wherein the 'unacceptable' would
gain force. At that time corruption was the base problem and needed immediate
redressal. Assem wanted to generate strong thinking and perception in the minds
of people so that they could foresee what was happening around, them and what
could the situation be like if not corrected.
By unacceptable I mean, if corruption is allowed to continue, a day shall come
wherein the country shall identify a vulture as its national bird instead of a
parrot. Likewise, the national emblem that consists of lions shall replace them
with wolves. Likewise, the constitution shall lose its value, the Parliament
shall be associated being a place of flies, patriotic songs shall become a piece
of a joke for all and there shall be bribes all around.
The prosecution put up serious charges against him thereby stating that he had
deliberately chosen to insult the Indian Constitution and showed disrespect to
the supreme document of the land. In an interview, Trivedi cleared the above
contention stating that he had never intended to insult the constitution or
disrespect it. He added this fact by stating that he strongly believed in the
Constitution as well as Dr. B R Ambedkar. His only purpose in choosing the
document was to see the situation around, it was obvious that the policies
enacted on the part of the government did prove to be disrespectful to the
constitution which generates agony and it was in the attempt of stopping all
that he chose to mock them through his cartoons.
Why should individuals be compelled to restrict themselves within the
constitutional parameters alone, why can't they take a step further? Where has
it been stated that cartoonists cannot make 'National Symbols' the object of
their cartoons? Why is it that these symbols cannot be used as normal 'objects'-
these are some of the common questions every individual should question the
It wasn't the government in its entirety but rather their policies that the
cartoonist wanted to divert our attention towards. Herein, all the cartoons that
Assem had posted on his blog were simply mocking the policies of the government
and didn't bring or attempt to bring hatred towards the government or the people
running the government and meant none of them at an individual level. The main
intention behind creating the cartoons was to draw the attention of the people
and create awareness among them so that in a legal way changes could have been
Interpreting the provision of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, it can be
clarified that Trivedi, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by
visible representation, or otherwise, neither brought nor attempted to bring
into hatred or contempt nor excited or attempted to excite feelings of
disaffection towards the government established by law in India. His objective
was never to cause disaffection in the government.
Through his cartoons, he never showed any disloyalty or feelings of enmity
toward the government. Explanation 2 of the Section has very clearly stated that
comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government to obtain
their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite
hatred, contempt, or disaffection, do not constitute an offense under this
In Trivedi, I see the emerging youthful idealism that continues to motivate
individuals. The Parliament as a toilet bowl is a clever analogy. The way his
cartoons have been criticized clearly reflects that this piece was not about
constitutional law or civic activism. After all, it is all about cartoons-an art
that simply captures the mood of the moment.
Hence, the requirements that are needed to establish an act being seditious
don't get fulfilled in this case. Aseem Trivedi's self-made caricatures never
embraced any such practice whether by word, deed, or writing didn't create any
disturbance thereby affecting the tranquillity of the state. There was no
intention to induce discontent towards the government. No cause of action
stirred up the opposition to the government or brought the administration of
justice into question. There was no act of inciting people to take part in
violent groups like insurrection and rebellion.
In conclusion the Bombay High Court in its final verdict observed that "every
citizen has the right to criticize state machinery in strong words and there has
to be incitement of violence to slap sedition charges on someone". The Court at
the time of granting bail to Mr. Trivedi in 2012 pulled the Mumbai Police for
having arrested the cartoonist on "frivolous grounds and without application of
mind." It also issued a set of new guidelines that the police are mandated to
follow before booking anyone under sedition charges. Accordingly, the guidelines
have been circulated across all the police stations across the state making it
obligatory for the officers to consult their respective seniors before booking
any person under sedition charges.
Modern democracy is growing intolerant towards expressing basic views. Online
caricatures have become radar to controversy. They are easily compressed, easy
to digest, and quickly transmitted throughout the world. A country like India
despite having talented cartoonists still lacks the inherent sense of humour
required to appreciate the same. The problem with today's era is that
caricatures have lost their senses. Insulting a creative piece is cheap and easy
Tracing the Supreme Court's landmark judgments in the case of Kedar Nath v. the
State of Bihar, 1962- the Court cleared the contention between Section 124A of
IPC and Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India which makes it clear that Mr.
Trivedi's cartoons were never seditious.
Reading Section 124A alongside the provided explanations, the entire section has
to be read as a 'whole'. It has been made reasonably clear that the section
focuses on rendering penal only such activities that are 'intended' or have the
required 'tendency' to create some sort of a 'disorder or disturbances of public
peace' that results out of violence. Any form of criticism in terms of
governmental policies or comments on its action doesn't necessarily mean
sedition or the amount being seditious.
It doesn't matter how strongly worded it is, it would still be placed under the
consideration with Article 19(1) of the constitution. Simply putting this means
disloyalty to Government established in the provisions of law isn't the same as
commenting in the strongest of words regarding the governmental measures or acts
or even its agencies that help run the government in the attempt of making
conditions of people better or seek cancellation or alteration of such measures
or acts legally without exciting or attempting to excite feelings of hatred,
contempt or disaffection shall not constitute as seditious and the individual
shall face no further liability under the above section.
Thus, in cases wherein such words are either spoken or written, or by signs, or
by visible representation, or otherwise have the inherent tendency of bringing
or attempting to bring public disorder or disturbances of law and order thereby
preventing such activities undertaken in the interests of the public. Under such
circumstances, Section 124A shall apply.
He never claimed bail for he has always been proud of whatever he did and claims
to do so. The present state unravels how sedition has largely been politicized
and has somewhat come as a hindrance in shaping the way one takes the
conversation ahead as to how the government can function. It is expected and is
also followed by the government that the criticisms are taken in a positive
manner for the rectification and modification of policies in context to the
development and welfare of the nation.
- Rama Lakshmi, 'Indian Political cartoonist jailed in sedition case' (The
Washington Post, 10 September 2012) https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/indian-political-cartoonist-aseem-trivedi-jailed-in-sedition-case/2012/09/10/0df1fc04-fb44-11e1-b153-218509a954e1_blog.html
accessed 2 October 2022.
- Jason Burke, 'Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivedi jailed after arrest on
sedition charges' (The Guardian, 10 September 2012) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/10/indian-cartoonist-jailed-sedition
accessed 1 October 2022.